SHORELINE — Fool them once, maybe, but the Columbia River girls soccer team likely won’t make the same mistake twice.
Making adjustments and correcting errors are traits of a Rapids program that has qualified for the Class 2A state final four in six straight seasons.
Friday’s 3-1 win in the state semifinals against Tumwater, a team that dealt River a 2-1 defeat in the district championship two weeks ago, was the latest example.
The Rapids’ relentless attack yielded goals from juniors Paige Johnson, Avah Eslinger and Peyton Dukes, the latter two coming after halftime. And, with the exception of a Tumwater penalty kick put through by Kayla Pope early in the second half, the Rapids’ defense and goalkeeper Alia Rust held the previously undefeated Thunderbirds (18-1-2) in check.
“We wanted it so bad,” Peyton Dukes said. “We wanted to go hard at them the whole entire time. We did it from the very beginning to the very end, and we didn’t let up once.”
River (19-3-1) led from the 21st minute onward when Maree Seibel sent a cross into the center of the box for Johnson, who connected on a header over Tumwater’s goalkeeper for a 1-0 lead.
Johnson made a beeline toward Seibel and tackled her in a jubilant celebration. After the game, Johnson thought back to last season at this time, sitting out with an injury that limited her to three games and watching as the Rapids lost in the semifinals to Archbishop Murphy, denying them a trip to the state championship game.
“It felt really great,” Johnson said. “I remember after, me and Maree (Seibel), like, body-slammed each other, it was so exciting. I think that goal helped to get our spirits up.”
Eslinger gave the Rapids a 2-0 advantage early in the 46th minute by knifing down the right wing and lofting a left-footed shot over Tumwater inside the far post. Just moments later, River was called for a foul inside the box leading to Pope’s successful PK.
The Rapids had been prone to giving up second-half goals in the postseason, including the go-ahead goal to Tumwater two weeks ago in stoppage time, but this instance was a one-off.
“I think we knew going into it, we’ve had the reaction of us letting go when a goal is scored and it hurts us negatively,” Eslinger said. “We knew that it wasn’t the game at all and there was so much time left, so we didn’t let it get into our minds.”
The Rapids kept their wits about them as the Thunderbirds looked to equalize, until Peyton Dukes delivered the exclamation point — a goal she scored directly from a corner kick taken in the 62nd minute.
That type of goal is called an “Olympico” and it’s the third such goal Dukes has scored in that fashion this season, including two in the postseason. This week at practice, she spent a lot of time with assistant coach Matt Newman working on it in case an opportunity presented itself this weekend.
“We spent at least an hour or two just working on curving it and just having the ball placed in the right spot,” Dukes said.
For fellow River players and coaches, having that extra weapon is a welcome addition.
“I knew right when she stood up to that corner I gave her a pat, I was like, ‘this is it,’ ” Eslinger said. “Right when she hit it, I was like, ‘that’s in’ … you can always count on her and never doubt her.”
River will face Sehome in Saturday’s 2A state championship match at 5 p.m. It’s the biggest game they’ve faced since the 2019 season when the Rapids won the state title. Much like Friday’s game, they’ll lean on their close-knit camaraderie to carry them through.
“We focus on community a lot and that really comes in big for us in these big moments when games get rough,” Johnson said. “We know we have each other and it makes a big difference.”